When I was getting ready to write The Elderly Earl’s Estate, set in Ireland, my next-door neighbor put me in touch with the Irish Consul here in Austin. The gentleman in that office at the time suggested I put Lady Rosse into the book because she was such a fascinating individual of the time period.
I looked into her, and she was exactly the sort of woman that Jo would find intriguing. She was a photographer in the early days of the art. She was a blacksmith. And with that skill, she helped her husband build a telescope that was considered a technical marvel in its day and has recently been restored.
She also lived nowhere near where I was setting the book…but a visit to a friend took care of that bit of fudging. This was allowable in my estimation. Changing her personality or behavior–as far as I could discern it–was not.
I had such a good time having Jo and Mary meet that when I needed Fred and Kevin to consult a lawyer in 1875 New York I wanted it to be another strong female historical personage.
Unfortunately, the first woman lawyer in New York State did not pass the bar for another ten years or graduate law school until 1898.
However, Kate Stoneman had a background as a law copyist and executrix of her aunt’s estate. She read law books for fun and enlightenment. She was also involved in the early days of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and this gave me the perfect hook to have her in the city for them to consult.
Introducing a bit of real-life history into your story is both entertaining for the reader and enlightening for the author, as I learned about two amazing women this way. Hopefully, by adding them to the books, it will bring them to life a little and pique the reader’s interest enough to find out more.
The most important thing to remember when using a historical personage in a book is to be mindful of their reputation and respectful of their accomplishments. Treat them as you would hope others would treat you in the future.